Rio Tinto
Sustainability 20.02.2023 2 Min.
Light weight, big impact.

A revolutionary aluminium production process is helping reduce carbon emissions by 70 per cent compared to conventional processes.

Aluminium is lightweight, robust and infinitely recyclable, making it an ideal material for the lightweight design of electrified vehicles. The problem is that its production typically generates huge amounts of carbon emissions – until now. Together with a number of partners, aluminium producer Rio Tinto has developed an electrolysis procedure that eliminates all carbon emissions generated during the smelting process. The BMW Group has therefore entered into an agreement with the company with a view to reducing its supply chain’s carbon footprint.

“We want to be the first automotive manufacturer in the world to use aluminium in series production, which does not generate any direct carbon emissions in the smelting process”, explains Joachim Post, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and the Supplier Network. Thanks to its positive material properties, aluminium is a firm fixture in the intelligent mixed construction approach of the BMW Group. But within the supply chain for a mid-size fully electric car, around a quarter of the carbon emissions are caused by the metal. This highlights the huge potential for carbon reductions within the aluminium supply chain.

The ELYSIS process developed for producing aluminium is revolutionising the smelting process needed for production. The innovative procedure eliminates all process-related carbon emissions through the use of carbon-free anodes and was successfully tested on an industrial scale for the first time in 2021.

In addition to the zero-carbon smelting process, a number of other criteria were decisive for the collaboration: direct access to electricity from renewable sources via at least six local hydroelectric power plants in Quebec, a high proportion of secondary materials and full transparency in the supply chain through blockchain technology from the bauxite mine to the factory – all factories involved in the process chain are ASI (Aluminium Stewardship Initiative)-certified and have comprehensive safeguarding against ESG risks. “As a result, this collaboration truly stands apart from anything we have done before,” says Project Manager Nicole Funk, who is responsible for sustainable raw materials and emissions within the supply chain in the non-ferrous metals sector for the BMW Group. Rio Tinto has also expanded its recycling capacity and is intensively driving research into sustainable technologies and innovative products, making it an exciting partner for the BMW Group.

Taking into account all process-related savings, this procedure reduces carbon emissions by 70 per cent compared to conventional aluminium manufacturing. The BMW Group intends to procure this significantly reduced-carbon aluminium from 2024 and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Rio Tinto Group to this end. The planned supply volume will initially be used exclusively in automotive production at the BMW Group Spartanburg plant in the US state of South Carolina, where it will be used to make body parts such as car bonnets.

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